Sweet new venture for downtown tasting room

Precept Wine Brands unveils a tasting room for The Chocolate Shop Wine at First and Main.

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WALLA WALLA -- It's no surprise that Walla Walla's new tasting room is the picture of indulgence with gilded touches of gold and rich browns, illuminated under the glow of a magnificent chandelier.

After all, the centerpiece for the new space at First Avenue and Main Street is the definition of decadence: a chocolate-infused wine.

Precept Wine Brands, the Washington wine company whose portfolio includes Walla Walla's Waterbrook Winery, Canoe Ridge and House Wine, among numerous others, has ridden the wave of success with The Chocolate Shop wine and will unveil a tasting room dedicated solely to that blend this weekend.

The new tasting room is one of two that Precept plans to open over Spring Release weekend. The other is the return of the Canoe Ridge Tasting Room, adjacent to the Canoe Ridge Winery, at 1102 W. Cherry St.

Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce and wine industry representatives got a sneak peek of the new chocolate-themed tasting room Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting event.

Precept previously operated its Walla Walla Wine Works at The Chocolate Shop location. The previous location was a retail destination for the company's array of labels. But surging sales of what was conceptualized as a niche market wine reportedly inspired the change.

According to press reports, the wine was introduced in the U.S. in January 2011. The chocolate red wine was made from a California Bordeaux blend mixed with sugar and natural chocolate. It was billed as a "chocolate lover's wine."

Numerous reports have said as many as 1.2 million bottles of The Chocolate Shop wine were sold almost entirely in the U.S. retail market in 2011. International demand has swelled with the release last November in the United Kingdom, where the base of the wine is a tempranillo from Spain. The company also features creme de cocoa and chocolate strawberry blends as well as "Box of Chocolate," a ruby red wine infused with rich, dark chocolate.

All are showcased in the new downtown Walla Walla space. The remodel of the new retail shop carried out a vision from local interior designer Jodi Hummer.

The shop -- "Purveyor of all things chocolate" -- is designed as a complete departure from other tasting rooms. In addition to The Chocolate Shop wine, it will also carry artisanal confections, chocolate T-shirts and novelty apparel. Operators say it builds on the neighborhood's surrounding "Sweet Row," including Bright's Candies, Frosted, the Cupcake Shop, and Peach & Pear.

The chocolate wines retail around $15. For more information call 522-1261 or visit chocolateshopwine.com.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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Canoe Ridge returns to historic site

Spring Release weekend marks the return of the Canoe Ridge Tasting Room at the century-old Walla Walla Valley Traction Company Engine House historic site.

Canoe Ridge was closed in the summer of 2010 as part of a cost-cutting initiative by Diageo, the international beverages company that also owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Captain Morgan and Jos?copy; Cuervo. At that time a spokeswoman for the company told "Wine Spectator" magazine the company wanted to explore options for its non-core assets, including selling them.

Seattle-based Precept announced its purchase of Canoe Ridge Vineyard, as well as Yakima's Sagelands Vineyard, in March 2011.

The tasting room has not operated for more than two years. Jodi Hummer led the interior refresh, retaining the cozy footprint and counter seating, according to an announcement. New patio seating outdoors is expected to provide space for entertaining and an endpoint for winery tours with winemaker Bill Murray.

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